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  • Gig Harbor Living Local

PEP-C Pioneers

Decades dedicated to community safety

Taylor Shillam

From the beginning, the Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition, or PEP-C, has been dedicated to making schools safer, neighborhoods more equipped for emergency, and the community surrounding Gig Harbor more empowered with education and resources.

Through the years, the PEP-C has teamed with fire departments, educators, state patrol officers and the like to provide effective training for personal preparedness in a case of emergency or disaster.

The coalition’s website describes its mission as helping “neighbors, neighborhoods and communities prepare to survive major earthquakes like the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) Earthquakes.”

Washington state has experienced a major earthquake every 300 years in recent geological time. A clock counting down since Washington’s last 9.0 earthquake looms on the PEP-C website, reporting the count to be 320 years and five months. “We could experience a major earthquake today!”

The coalition’s transparent dedication to their cause has taken them through decades of progress and success.

Three community members have stood out as dedicated advocates for the mission behind PEP-C. Dave Watson, Don Lee and Hugh McMillan each have incredible stories from their extensive involvement as local firefighters who served in the coalition for nearly 20 years.

Watson was born in Seattle and spent most of his life in Washington. For four years in the Navy, he worked in the repair, maintenance, arming and handling of many different types of nuclear weapons as part of the Nuclear Weapons Program.

Following his time in the Navy, Watson became a teacher and principal before joining his local fire department as a volunteer. During his time working for the school district, he found his passion for ensuring emergency preparedness in schools.

Watson went on to be an EMT and captain for 26 years, taking aid calls even during his school days as a principal. When he moved to Gig Harbor, he was in the first class of EMTs. He was also part of the launch of the PEP-C, which he says all started with earthquakes. With other locals who were engineers, firefighters and ex-military, he worked to involve the community in emergency preparedness initiatives and took leadership within neighborhoods to encourage involvement.

The first members of the PEP-C performed assessments of local schools, spent weekends preparing the schools for escape needs and assembling emergency kits, ensuring each of the 15 local schools were equipped with enough food and water to take care of the kids for three days.

Watson would later become president of the PEP-C for almost 20 years, through ups and downs, major successes in neighborhood trainings, and more challenging times of seeing volunteers and agencies disperse as life went on. He worked closely with the other two key figures in the history of PEP-C, Hugh McMillan and Don Lee.

Lee grew up in California, where his father was a miner and taught him at an early age how to handle dynamite. He was in the Navy in the late 1950s and didn’t move to Gig Harbor until after college in 1970, where he worked for the county superintendent while volunteering as a firefighter.

Lee has dedicated many of his years to helping others, as he became a full-time firefighter, then battalion chief, while maintaining his self-described status as a repairman for people in need.

In the late 1990s, Lee became involved in the PEP-C when his fire chief couldn’t make it to the organization’s monthly meeting and sent Lee in his place.

According to the PEP-C, Lee went on to serve as president for two years beginning in 2016, at a time when the coalition’s Preparedness Fairs took success each year, gathering hundreds to thousands of people to educate themselves about preparedness strategies and local resources.

Today, Lee is a shelter manager for the Chapel Hill Church, the largest shelter on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. He maintains his dedication to help educate and prepare the community through an extremely effective preparedness system at the church. The church’s emergency power has only been needed for minor emergencies, and of course, the hope is to keep it that way.

Hugh McMillan, an ex-operations officer, retired after 27 years with the CIA and immediately immersed himself into the community. He always believed in cohesion within the community; working to encourage community members to come together as one to face whatever the planet has in store.

After retiring from the CIA, he joined the Key Peninsula Fire Department. He went on to become a fire commissioner for 14 years, four of those years as part of the Washington Fire Commissioners Association Board of Directors.

“All of that exposed me to things that are emergencies,” McMillan told the PEP-C of his experiences. Before living in Gig Harbor, he spent several years living in Japan, where he experienced several minor earthquakes and saw firsthand the impact earthquakes could have.

Through the years, McMillan has used his community involvement, media influence and recruiting skills to build awareness for the PEP-C.

“I’ve tried to keep our name in front of the public as much as I could because I think it’s so important,” he told the coalition.

From alerting local radio and television stations to holding intimate preparedness briefings in his own home, McMillan has worked through the years to impress on locals the importance of preparation and has stayed dedicated to change the ingrained mindsets of those who think there’s simply nothing they can do.

In March 2019, the community recognized McMillan with a Plaque of Thanks, demonstrating a collective gratitude for his efforts in the community. At the Lions Club Banquet, his award was commemorated with a bronze plaque outlining his decades of service and many accomplishments. It was noted that community members joined with local firefighters to make the award possible.

Because of dedicated members like the three men, the coalition itself is an incredible resource.

Their Emergency Preparedness Fair, most recently at Gig Harbor High School, brings local educators, businesses and community members together to share information in seminars and tabletop displays.

The PEP-C website alone is an abundant resource. A hub for discussion and information related to emergency preparedness, you can learn everything you need to know about earthquakes as they pertain to Washington state and the Pacific Northwest from the PEP-C website’s “Prepare” tab.

The Resources page lists links to valuable information, with topics including sheltering in place, prepping for pets, fire safety, first aid, regional hazards, technological hazards, school violence and more. The page serves to provide an accessible wealth of information about potential disasters. Articles listed under each link outline proper responses to disaster, tips and strategies for personal preparedness, even a 12-month e-prep plan for the home.

Community members can contribute to the PEP-C as a volunteer. The PEP-C has several teams of volunteers including the Materials Team, Membership Team and Training Team.

The coalition is currently recruiting volunteers to serve various roles: to gather and inspire members, develop materials and events, create Saturday meetings, contribute to fundraising initiatives and more.

Currently, the coalition meets virtually on the second Wednesday of each month, with the exception of August. All are welcome to attend the meetings and can contact the PEP-C chairman through its website to RSVP.

Visit for full details regarding the coalition’s volunteer opportunities, meeting information and the wealth of information the coalition so readily provides.

In a time when safety and community have become more critical than ever, it’s organizations and people like the PEP-C members who stand out. The coalition and its impressive pioneers working together for the safer, more protected community, is an inspiration and a reminder that we are far better equipped to face hardship when we come together.

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